Magazine article Information Outlook

Marketing LIS Courses with Web 2.0 Tools: By Using Social Networking Tools to Attract Prospective Students, an LIS School Learned Some Important Lessons about the Skills and Commitment Needed to Make Their Efforts Successful

Magazine article Information Outlook

Marketing LIS Courses with Web 2.0 Tools: By Using Social Networking Tools to Attract Prospective Students, an LIS School Learned Some Important Lessons about the Skills and Commitment Needed to Make Their Efforts Successful

Article excerpt

At the University of Brighton, we've been offering library and information studies (LIS) courses in various forms since 1947. Like most other U.K.-based library schools, we now teach only postgraduate courses, having dropped our undergraduate offerings several years ago. We have an information studies program for graduates wanting their first professional qualification and an information management program for experienced information professionals wishing to extend and update their skills.

The market for LIS courses in the United Kingdom is a tough one, as several universities have dropped their programs in recent years. Being one of the smaller LIS teaching departments still operating has created a challenge for us: how to make our voice heard by potential students in a sector with larger and higher-profile competitors.

In 2007, we decided to try raising awareness of our courses using some Web 2.0 services. There were three key reasons we adopted this strategy.

First, our marketing budget was very small, and placing one advertisement in the magazine of our professional body, the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP), used up most of it. Many Web 2.0 tools are free or very cheap to use, which makes them attractive in such a situation.

Second, we wanted to reach out to an audience that is broader than our traditional library market. While we realize that students wanting to start careers in public, academic, school and corporate libraries are a core part of our market, we are aware that the profession is changing. New roles for information professionals are being created, requiring additional skill sets around the areas of content management, Web development and end-user training. Our hope was that using new communication tools would extend our reach to people who might not be aware of the relevance of our courses to their career development.

Finally, we were keen to test some of the claims being made for Web 2.0 tools as platforms for communication and marketing. What better way than to test them for our own ends?

Making a Start

Our first foray into the world of Web 2.0 was the creation of a blog. In 2007, we were hardly blogosphere pioneers, as a number of other LIS departments in the United Kingdom and United States had already launched blogs. However, these tended to be hidden away in subdirectories of their departmental Web sites, looked rather drab, and were difficult to find. Some of them also suffered from the classic blog curse--a paucity of updates. A blog that has not been updated in several months can do more damage to your marketing efforts than no blog at all.

Consequently, we considered four main factors when developing our blogging strategy:

* The blog needed to be easy to find and have its own domain name;

* It should be under our control and not subject to the demands of our university's Web architecture and policies;

* It should have a distinctive style and appearance; and

* It should be updated regularly, with posts about our department, courses, staff and students.

As the person driving our overall Web 2.0 strategy, I considered various names for the blog before settling on "Information Matters." The phrase encapsulates our philosophy, offers a concise play on words, and, more importantly, was available as a domain name. Although the .com variant was already taken, the .net and .org options were still available.

Choosing a blogging platform was also relatively straightforward. I had a Web hosting account that allowed me to easily set up open source applications, including WordPress, one of the world's leading blogging systems. WordPress offers a robust platform, with thousands of third-party templates from which to choose. (The decision to host the blog on my personal account came back to haunt me a couple of years later, but I'll come to that in a bit. …

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